On September 11, 2001, I was living in Vermont without a tv, and was splitting my morning between working on a website I was building as a freelancer and working on a shooting schedule for an independent film I was getting ready to produce. I got a call from Melissa, a costume designer that I had become friends with and who was working on the film planning with me, and she told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I was pretty sure she’d gotten it wrong — she had a tendency toward confusion — but a google search later I was heading to her house to watch.
19 hijackers killed 2,977 people. That number includes 343 fire fighters and 72 law enforcement officers.
We (and at this point it becomes a very loose “we” as I did not support the decision or wave a flag at the vigil in the square) went to war again on the other side of the world (where honestly we’d been hovering around without license for some time), and vowed to kill Osama bin Laden, the Taliban leader we targeted as masterminding the attacks (he didn’t actually take credit for it until 2004). He was finally killed in 2011. I won’t get into all the other things that happened in the U.S. as a result of the attacks, like George Bush’s approval rating soaring to 90% and the declaration that the presidential ballot recount had to be abandoned, because in such a time of national trial, we couldn’t possibly handle a change in leadership, or like the Homeland Security Act that started the sneaky process of stripping us of freedoms.
By October we’d begun the (American) War in Afghanistan, with some troops working under the auspices of NATO and others acting under U.S. guidance only. We still have troops there, and 2,229 US military were killed in the conflict, with another 18,675 wounded. Numbers vary on how many Afghan civilians have been killed, with various non-profits putting the number anywhere from 21,000 to 107,000, with a significant portion killed by insurgents rather than invading military. Even assuming a 75% rate for kills by insurgents, that still puts us at anywhere from 5,250 – 42,500 Afghan civilians killed by invading forces.
Then we moved on to Iraq. I think most of us remember the rousing headlines as Bush declared it was necessary because they had Weapons of Mass Destruction including biological agents that fed our science fiction fears. And then the report saying that well, maybe not, and that they knew better, but the war was still righteous, right? I can’t even start listing the numbers of dead without getting stomach cramps. And it all stems back to that one morning, when 2,229 people were killed by a terrorist group — not a nation or a government, but a specific group of radicals.
This year alone, U.S. police have killed more than 800 people (not counting people killed after they’re in custody). In previous years, hundreds more (each year). We don’t have to go back more than couple of years to see that U.S. police have killed more American citizens than the 9/11 attacks. But where is the war on the police status quo? Why is our government not responding to this clear sign of abuse of power, poor training, and racism (as an overwhelming number of the people being killed are African-American)? Why isn’t Obama getting up at his podium and instead of saying sad things about how awful this is and how it has to change, saying something like, “Y’all are DONE. Effective immediately, Homeland Security is amending its mission to focus on defending the rights and lives of citizens from unlawful acts including search and seizure, unlawful detainment, improper arrest, being beaten by police, and oh yeah — getting killed by the motherfucking cops. Until this change can be fully implemented and all police forces undergo a national review, specially trained National Guard members will be supplementing police forces and will have full authority to fire and arrest any officers or related officials such as medical examiners, sheriffs, DAs, etc. who’ve been abusing the trust and power granted them by the U.S. people. That goes for corrupt cops, too, y’all. Okay, now I have to go back to trying to figure out this Iran deal. Behave!” (In this little fantasy sequence, Obama says “y’all” a lot and admonishes everyone to behave, like a mother leaving her kids alone when she goes into the kitchen to make dinner.)
I don’t think that’s going to happen, though.
In the meantime, check out Campaign Zero. Follow some people on Twitter who are keeping up with this stuff and making it easy for you to be informed (and horrified) on a daily basis. When you hear someone responding to #BlackLivesMatter with racist rhetoric or an announcement that #AllLivesMatter, set those people straight about what is going on in our country, and let them know that although they are positive they aren’t racist because they have a black friend/girlfriend/spouse/etc, they’re wrong. Explain about privilege. Use yours to try and balance the scales where you see injustice, whether it’s race-related or not.
And yes, take a moment today to remember the people who died in the 9/11 attacks, and the soldiers who died fighting in the wars (they’re not the ones who decided we should go, after all). But take another moment to think about all the people we have killed in those wars since then (take a few moments, since the number is so much higher). And think about the people killed by the police right here at home, and their families, and the lost possibilities. Maybe today can just be a sad day, once you start adding up all those moments.
But tomorrow? Please start paying more attention (if you already do, great!), and speaking up, and doing what you can to effect change in your own way. When we don’t speak up when we see bad things happen or people saying something racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/all-the-bad-isms, it implies we approve, and encourages the continuation of that behavior. It’s uncomfortable to bring up, for both the person pointing it out and the person on the receiving end (I’ve been in both positions), but it makes things better in the long run.
Of course with climate change it may all be irrelevant, but we might as well give it a shot just in case we live, right? :)